Ancestry Step by Step Guide: How to Upload-Download DNA Files

In this Upload-Download Series, we’ll cover each major vendor:

  • How to download raw data files from the vendor
  • How to upload raw data files to the vendor, if possible
  • Other mainstream vendors where you can upload this vendor’s files

Uploading to Ancestry

This part is easy with Ancestry, because Ancestry doesn’t accept any other vendor’s files. There is no ability to upload TO Ancestry. You have to test with Ancestry if you want results from Ancestry.

Downloading from Ancestry

In order to transfer your autosomal DNA file to another testing vendor, or GedMatch, for either matching or ethnicity, you’ll need to first download the file from Ancestry.

Step 1

Sign in to your account at Ancestry and click on the DNA Results Summary link.

Step 2

Click on the Settings gear, at the far upper right hand corner of the summary page, just beneath your Ancestry user ID.

Step 3

Click on the link for “Download Raw DNA Data.”

Step 4

Enter your password and click on “I Understand,” after reading of course.

At that point, the confirm button turns orange – click there.

Step 5

Ancestry will send an e-mail to the e-mail address where you are registered with Ancestry. Check your inbox for that e-mail.

Waiting…waiting.

Still waiting…

If the e-mail doesn’t arrive shortly, check your spam folder. If you’ve changed e-mail addresses, check to be sure your new one is registered with Ancestry. That’s on the same Settings page. If all else fails, request the e-mail again.

Step 6

Ahhh, it’s finally here.

Click on the green “Confirm Data Download” and do not close the window.

Step 7

Next, click on the green “Download DNA Raw Data.”

You’ll see the following confirmation screen.

Step 8

At the bottom of the page, above, if you’re on a PC, you’ll see the typical file download box that asks you if you want to open or save. Save the file as a name you can find later when you want to upload to another site.

The file name will be “dna-data-2018-07-31” where the date is the date you downloaded the file. I would suggest adding the word Ancestry to the front when you save the file on your system.

Most vendors want an unopened zip file, so if you want to open your file, first copy it to another name. Otherwise, you’ll have to download again.

That’s it, you’re done!

Ancestry File Transfers to Other Vendors

Ancestry testing falls into two different categories. V1 tests taken before May of 2016 and V2 tests taken after May 2016. Tests processed during May 2016 could be either version.

The difference between V1 and V2 files is that Ancestry changed the chips they use to test and different DNA positions are tested, resulting in a file of a different format.

If you don’t remember when you tested, make a copy of your Ancestry file using a different name, like, “Opened Ancestry file 7-31-2018.” Then just click to open the zip file.

The first four rows of the file will say something like this:

#AncestryDNA raw data download
#This file was generated by AncestryDNA at: 08/11/2017 07:23:49 UTC
#Data was collected using AncestryDNA array version: V1.0
#Data is formatted using AncestryDNA converter version: V1.0

This is a version 1 (V1) file.

A version 2 file will say V2.0.

Your upload results to other vendors’ sites will vary in terms of both matching and ethnicity accuracy based on your Ancestry version number, as follows:

From below to >>>>>>>>>>> Family Tree DNA Accepts ** MyHeritage Accepts*** 23andMe Accepts* GedMatch Accepts ****
Ancestry before May 2016 (V1) Yes, fully compatible Yes, fully compatible No Yes
Ancestry after May 2016 (V2) Yes, partly compatible Yes, fully compatible No Yes

*Note that 23andMe earlier in 2018 allowed a one-time transfer from Ancestry, but people who transferred results did not receive matches from 23andMe.

**Note that the transfer to Family Tree DNA and matching is free, but advanced tools including the chromosome browser and ethnicity require a $19 unlock fee. That fee is less expensive than retesting, but V2 customers should consider retesting to obtain fully compatible matching and ethnicity results. V2 tests typically receive only the closest 20-25% of matches they would receive if they tested directly at Family Tree DNA.

***MyHeritage utilizes a technique known as imputation to achieve compatibility between different vendors files. The transfer and tools are free, but without a subscription you can’t fully utilize all of the MyHeritage benefits available.

****I’m not sure exactly how GedMatch compensates for the V1 versus V2 differences, but they can handle both data file types. Most people don’t take both tests, but I was conducting an experiment and have uploaded both V1 and V2 tests.

A quick survey of GedMatch matches to my Ancestry V1 and Ancestry V2 kits shows that of my first 249 (125 V2, 124 V1) matches, I have 3 V1 tests that don’t have a corresponding match to a person on the V2 kit, and 5 V2 kits that don’t have a corresponding V1 kit match. That’s roughly a 6% nonmatch rate between Ancestry V1 and V2 kits. I would presume that as the genealogical and genetic distance increases with more distant matches, so would the percentage of non-matches because the segment size is smaller with more distant matches, so there is less matching DNA to have the opportunity to match in the first place.

Testing and Transfer Strategy

My recommendation, if you test at Ancestry, is to transfer your V1 results to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

An Ancestry V1 test is entirely compatible at Family Tree DNA, but with a V2 test, because the testing platform that Ancestry uses is only about 20-25% compatible with the Family Tree DNA test, you’ll only receive your closest 20-25% matches. Family Tree DNA can’t match on those smaller segments if you don’t test on a compatible platform, so please do.

If you have Ancestry V2 results, transfer to MyHeritage and GedMatch but retest at Family Tree DNA. The cost difference at Family Tree DNA between the $19 unlock and a new Family Finder test is $60, for a total of $79 when the tests aren’t on sale. When they are on sale, it’s less. Right now, the tests are only $59.

You never know which match is going to break down that brick wall, and it would be a shame to miss it because you transferred rather than retested.

Matching and ethnicity is free with a transfer to MyHeritage, but you won’t receive the full potential benefit of SmartMatching without a subscription, as free trees are limited to 250 people and genealogical records aren’t included without a subscription. My subscription has been well worth the $.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Concepts: Anonymized Versus Pseudonymized Data and Your Genetic Privacy

Until recently, when people (often relatives) expressed concerns about DNA testing, genetic genealogy buffs would explain that the tester could remain anonymous, and that their test could be registered under another name; ours, for example.

This means, of course, that since our relative is testing for OUR genealogy addiction, er…hobby, that we would take care of those pesky inquiries and everything else. Not only would they not be bothered, but their identity would never be known to anyone other than us.

Let’s dissect that statement, because in some cases, it’s still partially true – but in other cases, anonymity in DNA testing is no longer possible.

You certainly CAN put your name on someone else’s kit and manage their account for them. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, depending on the testing vendor you select.

If the DNA testing is either Y or mitochondrial DNA, it’s extremely UNLIKELY, if not impossible, that their Y or mitochondrial DNA is going to uniquely identify them as an individual.

Y and mitochondrial DNA is extremely useful in identifying someone as having descended from an ancestor, or not, but it (probably) won’t identify the tester’s identity to any matching person – at least not without additional information.

If you need a brush-up on the different kinds of DNA and how they can be used for genealogy, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Y and mitochondrial DNA can be used to rule in or rule out specific descendant relationships. In other words, you can unquestionably tell for sure that you are NOT related through a specific line. Conversely, you can sometimes confirm that you are most likely related to someone you match through the direct Y (patrilineal) line for males, and matrilineal mitochondrial line for both males and females. That match could be very distant in time, meaning many generations – even hundreds or thousands of years ago.

However, autosomal DNA, which tests a subset of all of your DNA for the genealogical goal of matching to cousins and confirming ancestors is another matter entirely. Some of the information you discern from autosomal testing includes how closely you match, which effectively predicts a range of relationships to your match.

These matches are much more recent in time and do not reach back into the distant past. The more closely you are related, the more DNA you share, which means that your DNA is identifying your location in the family tree, regardless of the name you put on the test itself.

Now, let’s look at the difference between anonymization and pseudonymization.

It may seem trivial, but it isn’t.

Anonymization vs Pseudonymization

Recently, as a result of the European Union GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation,) we’ve heard a lot about privacy and pseudonymization, which is not the same as anonymized data.

Anonymized data must be entirely stripped of any identifiable information, making it impossible to derive insights on a discreet individual, even by the person or entity who performed the anonymization. In other words, anonymization cannot be reversed under any circumstances.

Given that the purpose of genetic genealogy conflicts with the concept of anonymization, the term pseudonymization is more properly applied to the situation where someone masks or replaces the name of the tester with the goal of hiding the identity of the person who is actually taking the test.

Pseudonymization under GDPR (Article 4(5)) is defined as “the processing of personal data in such a way that the data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of ‘additional information.’”

In reality, pseudonymization is what has been occurring all along, because the tester could always be re-identified by you.

However, and this important, neither anonymization or pseudonymization can be guaranteed to disguise your identity anymore.

Anonymous Isn’t Anonymous Anymore

The situation with autosomal DNA and the expectation of anonymity has changed rather gradually over the past few years, but with tidal wave force recently with the coming-of-age of two related techniques:

  • The increasingly routine identification of biological parents
  • The Buckskin Girl and Golden State Killer cases in which a victim and suspect were identified in April 2018, respectively, by the same methodology used to identify biological parents

Therefore, with autosomal DNA results, meaning the raw data results file ONLY, neither total anonymity or any expectation of pseudonymization is reasonable or possible.

Why?

The reason is very simple.

The size of the data bases of the combined mainstream vendors has reached the point where it’s unusual, at least for US testers, to not have a reasonably close match with a relative that you did not personally test – meaning third cousin or closer. Using a variety of tools, including in-common-with matches and trees, it’s possible to discern or narrow down candidates to be either a biological parent, a crime victim or a suspect.

In essence, the only real difference between genetic genealogy searching, parent searches and victim/suspect searches is motivation. The underlying technique is exactly the same with only a few details that differ based on the goal.

You can read about the process used to identify the Golden State Killer here, and just a few days later, a second case, the Cook/Van Cuylenborg double homicide cold case in Snohomish County, Washington was solved utilizing the following family tree of the suspect whose DNA was utilized and matched the blue and pink cousins.

Provided by the Snohomish County Sheriff

A genealogist discovering those same matches, of course, would be focused on the common ancestors, not contemporary people or generations.

To identify present day individuals, meaning parents, victims or suspects, the researcher identifies the common ancestor and works their way forward in time. The genealogist, on the other hands, is focused on working backwards in time.

All three types of processes, genealogical, parent identification and law enforcement depend on identifying cousins that lead us to common ancestors.

At that point, the only question is whether we continue working backwards (genealogically) or begin working forwards in time from the common ancestors for either parent identification or law enforcement.

Given that the suspect’s or victim’s name or identifying information is not known, their DNA alone, in combination with the DNA of their matches can identify them uniquely (unless they are an identical twin,) or closely enough that targeted testing or non-genetic information will confirm the identification.

Sometimes, people newly testing discover that a parent, sibling or half sibling genetic match is just waiting for them and absolutely no analysis is necessary. You can read about the discovery of the identity of my brother’s biological family here and here.

Therefore, we cannot represent to Uncle Henry, especially when discussing autosomal DNA testing, that he can test and remain anonymous. He can’t. If there is a family secret, known or unknown to Uncle Henry, it’s likely to be exposed utilizing autosomal DNA and may be exposed utilizing either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing.

For the genealogist, this may cause Pavlovian drooling, but Uncle Henry may not be nearly so enthralled.

In Summary

Genealogical methods developed to identify currently living individuals has obsoleted the concept of genetic anonymity. You can see in the pedigree chart example below how the same match, in yellow, can lead to solving any of the three different scenarios we’ve discussed.

Click to enlarge any graphic

If the tester is Uncle Henry, you might discover that his parents weren’t his parents. You also might discover who his real parents were, when your intention was only to confirm your common great-grandparents. So much for that idea.

A match between Henry and a second cousin, in our example above, can also identify someone involved in a law enforcement situation – although today those very few and far between. Testing for law enforcement purposes is prohibited according to the terms and conditions of all 4 major testing vendors; Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage.

Currently law enforcement kits to identify either victims or suspects can be uploaded at GedMatch but only for violent crimes identified as either homicide or sexual assault, per their terms and conditions.

Furthermore, both 23andMe and Ancestry who previously reserved the right to anonymize your genetic information and sell or otherwise utilize that information in aggregated format no longer can do so under the new GDPR legislation without your specific consent. GDPR, while a huge pain in the behind for other reasons has returned the control of the consumer’s DNA to the consumer in these cases.

The loss of anonymity is the inevitable result of this industry maturing. That’s good news for genetic genealogy. It means we now have lots of matches – sometimes more than we can keep up with!

Because of those matches, we know that if we test our DNA, or that of a family member, our DNA plus the common DNA shared with many of our relatives is enough to identify us, or them. That’s not news to genealogists, but it might be to Uncle Henry, so don’t tell him that he can be anonymous anymore.

You can pseudonymize accounts to some extent by masking Uncle Henry’s name or using your name. Managing accounts for the same reasons of convenience that you always did is just fine! We just need to explain the current privacy situation to Uncle Henry when asking permission to test or to upload his raw data file to GedMatch (or anyplace else,) because ultimately, Uncle Henry’s DNA leads to Uncle Henry, no matter whose name is on the account.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

The Science Behind the Golden State Killer – Insitome Podcast

Please join Spencer Wells, Founder and CEO of Insitome, former Director of the Genographic Project and Explorer in Residence at National Geographic, Razib Khan, Director of Scientific Content at Insitome and yours truly as we discuss the science behind the Golden State Killer case.

I would like to thank Spencer and Razib for inviting me to join them today. It was fun discussing the case itself and the possible ramifications to this entire industry. I was going to add, “in the future,” but the future is here.

The Golden State Killer case is remarkable because of the combined techniques used to solve the crime which include DNA, genealogy and associated data bases in addition to traditional investigative work.

As Spencer Wells says in the podcast, this case is “Sherlock Holmesian.” What a movie this will make one day!

I wrote about this topic a few days ago in the article, The Golden State Killer and DNA.

How did all of these techniques work together to identify a suspect? How does the actual science work? Is it accurate? Are there issues? What about privacy concerns with more than 17 million people having already participated in direct to consumer testing?

Yes, more than 17 million at the end of 2017 – probably more than 20 million now and maybe 30 million by year end. Razib weighs in on how many is enough for forensic testing.

Learn about the underlying science and hear what Spencer and Razib, both geneticists, have to say.

Please join us at any of the following links:

For those who might not be aware, Spencer’s company, Insitome, doesn’t offer DNA testing for matching, so can’t be used for law enforcement purposes.

Insitome does offer Neanderthal, Regional Ancestry and Metabolism DNA testing. In fact, the Mother’s Day pricing is 60% off of their Regional Ancestry test which provides you with your regional ethnicity for $49.

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Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

The Golden State Killer and DNA

Joseph DeAngelo, 2018 mugshot, alleged Golden State Killer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you already know that the Golden State Killer has, it appears, been apprehended by:

  1. Sequencing DNA from the original crime scene
  2. Uploading those results to a genealogy data base to utilize techniques currently used for unknown parent searches to suggest or identify the killer
  3. Then, to confirm that they had identified the right person, discarded DNA from the suspect was sequenced which apparently matched the original DNA from the crime scene

I say “it appears” because remember, until he’s convicted, Joseph DeAngelo is still a suspect.

I have received more messages, texts and e-mails about this one topic than any other, ever. My phone has been buzzing like an angry bee with too much caffeine for days.

Unfortunately, in many news articles, the topic suffers from dramatic over-simplification at best and significant errors at worst. This combined with lots of fear stirs a toxic brew.

In almost all cases, the author writing the article clearly didn’t understand the subject matter at hand. Many leaders in the genetic genealogy community have been asked for comment. Having had more than one situation in which I was misquoted or my quote was taken out of context, I am discussing the issue in this article, where my comments aren’t boiled down to a one sentence sound bite. I don’t want anyone making a knee-jerk reaction with partial information. This topic deserves, and must receive much more discussion in a calm, informed manner.

There is a great deal of concern, curiosity, misinformation and incorrect assumptions in the genetic genealogy community as well as the media, along with emotions running at high tide.

I think it’s important to do three things:

  1. Discuss what actually happened.
  2. Discuss how genealogy versus both unknown parent and forensic searching differs from genealogy searching.
  3. Discuss associated concerns.

The Case

The Golden State Killer has been accused of at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes and many burglaries primarily from June 1975 through May 1986. DNA evidence was collected, but DNA testing at that time had not progressed to the point where the culprit was able to be identified by utilizing his DNA.

A lot has changed, both in terms of DNA technology and other resources available since that time.

Last week, on April 25th, Joseph DeAngelo, now in his 70s, was arrested after DNA matching implicated him as the Golden State Killer. The news is ripe with stories, but this NPR article is a good summary as are the references at that bottom of the wiki article linked above.

Initial Concerns

Initially, two questions were being asked.

  • Which genetic genealogy company “cooperated” with law enforcement?
  • Did law enforcement have a search warrant?

As it turns out, the answer is that no testing companies “cooperated” and that no  search warrant was needed.

The next question was, “How safe is my DNA?”

Let’s talk about what happened, how it was done and how it affects each of us.

Disclosure

I was not involved with this or any similar case in any capacity, although I have been working the past few days to ferret out what actually happened, including discussing this privately and in public forums.

However, I am familiar with the techniques used as a result of my involvement with archaeological digs and ancient DNA, and I’d like to discuss what actually happened, as best we can unravel to date.

DNA Collection

At the time of the rapes and murders committed by the Golden State Killer, one police officer froze extra samples of the evidence, just in case, for the future. That future has arrived.

In the past few years, whole genome sequencing of ancient DNA and degraded samples has become possible. Probably the most notable are the Neanderthal and Denisovan genome reconstructions, beginning in 2010, but sequencing of forensic samples has become commonplace in the past few years.

From those ancient sequences, as long ago as September 2014, whole genome sequences were being reduced to just the DNA locations supported by GedMatch and the resulting compatible files uploaded there for comparison to other testers. This was possible because the raw data files are made available to testers by testing companies, so testers can modify the files in any way they see fit without the cooperation or involvement of any lab or company.

More ancient samples were added to GedMatch in the following months, and the ancient DNA comparison feature continues to be quite popular. No one ever thought much about it, but there is absolutely no reason that same technique couldn’t be used for other samples, and indeed, now it has.

Just 13 days before the arrest of DeAngelo, another homicide was solved by DNA sequencing. A murder victim, known as Buckskin Girl, found in 1981 was identified as Marcia Lenore King.

According to the non-profit Doe project, whole genome sequencing was performed, the file reduced to a format needed for GedMatch, and the file uploaded.

Again, there was no public outcry – possibly because a victim had been identified and not a criminal suspect, and because the event was not as widely publicized. However, it’s also possible that if the Buckskin Girl’s murderer left DNA evidence on the body, that sequencing could have identified both the victim and the murderer.

The identification of Buckskin Girl, however, did spur non-public debate within the leadership of the genetic genealogy field. Little did we know that the next case would follow dramatically in just two weeks.

GedMatch Matching

GedMatch is an open data base created in 2011 by two individuals in order to facilitate open sharing of autosomal matching between people, even if they tested at different companies.

Of the DNA testing companies, at that time, only 23andMe and Family Tree DNA provided centiMorgan information, recently joined by MyHeritage. Ancestry does not provide this information to their clients, so if an Ancestry client wants to see how they match other individuals in terms of actual chromosome locations and centiMorgans, they must transfer to either Family Tree DNA, GedMatch or now, MyHeritage.

Because GedMatch, with few exceptions during periods of change, matches customers from every vendor against customers from every other vendor, at least partially, they have become the clearing house for many people, especially Ancestry customers who don’t have the chromosome comparison option natively at Ancestry.

I want to be VERY clear about what you can and cannot see and do at GedMatch.

You can see your matches by the name they have entered, which can be an alias, along with their e-mail and how you match them. You CANNOT see the information of anyone you don’t match, unless you utilize another person’s kit number to see who they match. This has always been how GedMatch functions.

GedMatch users do NOT have access to your actual DNA file – ever. They can see who they match, and if they have your kit number, they can see who you match as well. Here’s an example of my own match screen.

Note – typically when showing GedMatch screen shots, I would blur the kit numbers and names in keeping with good privacy practices. However, since the point is to show you what one can actually see, I haven’t, because the top two matches are my own kits from Ancestry and 23andMe, and the third kit is that of my deceased mother whose kit I now manage. I also want to demonstrate that truly, there is nothing frightening or threatening about the information your matches see about you.

Best Matches

From a genealogist’s perspective, your “best matches” are to known close relatives, because when you match that relative and another person, especially on the same DNA segment, it’s a good indication that you share a common ancestor further back in time.

Genealogists build “clusters” of those types of matches in order to prove a relationship to a common ancestor. This is the heart and soul of DNA matching for genealogy.

For example, someone who matches you and your first cousin, both, on the same rather large segment assuredly shares a common ancestor with you and your cousin someplace in the past. The genealogical goal, of course, is to identify that long-deceased ancestor.

For example, if you match a first cousin, you know that your most recent common ancestor is one of your two sets of grandparents. Most genealogy matches are further back in time than either first or second cousins, making the identification of the common ancestor more challenging. Discovering that common ancestor is the goal of the game – because these matches to people with the same ancestor in their tree (generally) confirm that your ancestor is accurately identified. Some matches solve long-time family mysteries and break down brick walls.

However, not all brick walls are in the past.

Adoptee and Parental Search Matching

A few years ago, genealogists attempting to find unknown parents for adoptees and people with unknown fathers noticed that there were matching patterns to be followed successfully.

With millions of people having tested today, it’s much easier than it was a few years ago to find that key match (or matches) that reveals or confirms the identity of either an ancestor or an unknown parent.

While both genealogists and unknown parent searches look for close matches, the techniques diverge at that point.

Genealogists use a first or second cousin match to move backwards in time, looking for common distant ancestors.

In unknown parent searches, the same genealogical technique is used, EXCEPT, the person doing the searching could care less about older ancestors, such as great-grandparents. They are looking for their immediate ancestors – their parents.

Therefore, when an adoptee finds that critical first cousin match, they aren’t interested in figuring out a common ancestor for genealogy, meaning going backward in time. They covet that first cousin match for the purpose of coming forward in time, meaning towards the present in order to identify parents.

If you match to someone as a first cousin, you share a common set of grandparents. You can’t tell, without additional information, which set of grandparents, but given that you do match as a first cousin, there are only two positions the match can have in your family – either the pink or blue person above. This means that either your father or mother was a sibling to your first cousin’s parent.

You either share your father’s parents with your first cousin, or your mother’s parents, but you don’t know which – at least not yet.

With that much information, it’s fairly easy to uncover the rest. After all, you only have two sets of grandparents and anyone who is your first cousin will point to one of those two sets of grandparents.

You need to figure out who else matches you AND your first cousin, and then look at the genealogy of everyone who matches in that group until you discover the name of common family members/ancestors that you recognize, meaning an ancestor on either your maternal or paternal side to confirm that your first cousin matches you on that line.

Of course, for people who know their parents, figuring out first cousins is easy and takes about 2 seconds – but not so much for adoptees. Adoptees look to see how people who match them also match each other. For example, does the same couple or ancestor appear in the trees of multiple matches? In the example below, if the tester matches all three blue people as first cousins, the name of the blue cousins’ grandparents would be the same, suggesting that the tester’s grandparents were that same couple.

Next, it’s necessary to figure out which people who descend from the common set of grandparents might be candidates to be the parent the tester is seeking. In the example below, we’ve expanded the side of the three blue first cousin matches, adding their parents’ siblings as parent candidates for our tester. Factors such as age and location at the time of conception are taken into consideration when focusing on parent candidates.

If the tester doesn’t know who their parents are, they would be VERY interested in determining ALL of the children of the grandparents of their first cousin. Because one of the children of their first cousin’s grandparents IS THEIR PARENT.

In our example above, let’s just look at one of the grandparent pairs of the blue first cousins. The first cousins know who their grandparents are. The tester does not. In this case either the father or mother of the tester is the child of the first cousin’s grandfather and grandmother. Meaning that the red mother is the female child of the grandparents, or the green father is the male child of the grandparents.

We know that the grey parents of the first cousin matches can be eliminated as the tester’s parent. If the first cousin’s parent was also the parent of the tester, then the first cousin wouldn’t be a first cousin, but would be a full or half sibling.

However, the matching first cousins’ parents have three siblings who have not DNA tested, nor have their children, shown in pink and green. One of those three siblings IS either the father or mother of the tester. Of course, if the grandparents didn’t have any female children, then the tester’s father is one of the green male children of the grandparents, and vice versa.

In the example shown below, the tester’s mother IS the female child of the grandfather/grandmother pair and has been moved into place. This would be determined either by direct testing of the pink or green people, or their descendants, or by process of elimination through DNA tests of the other siblings or utilizing other pieces of information such as age and proximity.

Some adoptees are lucky enough to test and discover that a parent has tested and is waiting for them. Sometimes an unsuspected half sibling appears. Sometimes, there is no close match and the adoptee has to do more research work, including tracking people through social media and other means to find candidate family members to DNA test or to see if they know who might have been the much-sought-after parent.

Search Techniques

This type of research work has been taking place for years, individually, through groups like DNAadoption and DNADetectives who utilize volunteer search angels, as well as by several researchers who make a living doing this type of personal search. My focus is not on adoption search cases.

No one has seemed to consider this unethical, even though some of this work, especially when a parent isn’t immediately evident, involves utilizing the DNA of the tester’s matches and their matches’ relatives, connecting the family dots through social media, specifically Facebook pages, to discover the identify of someone who may not welcome that discovery. However, like GedMatch, Facebook, while not intended for this purpose is public and is heavily utilized by adoption searchers.

Some adoption search cases end very well – with heartfelt beautiful reunions welcomed by all parties. Others not so much, potentially upending the life of the biological parent that was established after the adoption took place which leads to a rejection that devastates the adoptee. Much of the damage can be done by the search process itself, meaning that the biological parent is “outed” by the process of people working through relatives who have tested and match in various ways. Of course, they ask questions to identify the biological parent – meaning that by the time the parent is identified they have no say about their own privacy.

Once DNA is uploaded to a data base, the search techniques for biological parent searches and to identify Buckskin Girl and DeAngelo, are exactly the same.

These searches all utilize matches to others, and the matches’ trees, to move forward in time to current to search for contemporary people, not ancestors further back in time.

Back to the Golden State Killer

Ok, back to the Golden State Killer.

We have the killer’s DNA sequence from the original crime scene and the file reduced to the number of DNA locations utilized by GedMatch.

Someone, presumably one of the investigators working on the case, uploaded that file to GedMatch, which appears to be entirely permissible because the police have legal custody of that DNA sample.

Let’s say the investigator, just like a genealogist, found a first cousin match, or even more distant (read difficult) matches further back – and they did exactly what people searching for unknown parents do. The investigator eventually worked through all of the possibilities based on common matches – then looked at age, location, opportunity and factors that might exclude some candidates. In this case, because it’s a rape case with the criminal obviously a male, females would be excluded, for example.

Evidence from DNA matches to the biological sample of the Golden State Killer caused the police to focus on DeAngelo.

After DeAngelo was identified through matches as a suspect, the police obtained his discarded DNA. Discarded DNA could be anything from a coffee cup thrown away to a cigarette butt or something from the trash.

That discarded DNA was sequenced, and a few days before his arrest, uploaded to GedMatch as well. The discarded DNA apparently matched the earlier sample from the killer as “himself” and the other people that the killer matched in the same way – establishing the fact that the Golden State Killer and DeAngelo were one and the same person.

You can see that I match my own 23andme and Ancestry kits as my closest matches in the GedMatch example I showed.

In essence, what the DNA of “the killer” obtained from the crime scene did was to generate leads through matching that allowed the police to identify DeAngelo and obtain a sample of his discarded DNA in order to verify that DeAngelo was the same person as the killer. Of course, he’s still a suspect today, not yet convicted.

Cooperation or Search Warrant

The police, in this case, didn’t need to ask for anyone’s cooperation. They already had the sample from the killer, they did what hundreds of thousands of others have done and simply uploaded the file to GedMatch.

The investigators didn’t need a search warrant because they weren’t asking for anything from GedMatch not already freely given, meaning matches to anyone who has already uploaded their information.

The investigators only used that matching information to generate tips for further investigation. They repeated the entire process with the discarded DNA sample to verify the earlier results obtained with DNA from the crime scene.

It bears noting here that if DeAngelo’s DNA had NOT matched that of the killer and the other people in the same way the killer’s DNA had matched them, then the discarded DNA would have eliminated DeAngelo as a suspect.

So, no genealogy testing company had to cooperate with anyone, nor was a search warrant necessary.

What’s the Rub?

We now have a monster about to be brought to justice. Two weeks earlier, Buckskin Girl, a murder victim, was identified and the family will finally have closure, 37 years later. Both of these are unquestionably wonderful outcomes.

So why are some people upset?

In some cases, people are simply confused about the process involved, and they will be relieved when they understand what actually happened – that their DNA was not “handed over” to anyone.

Some people have broader reaching concerns about privacy.

It appears that the word “police” combined with the word “criminal” caused a great deal of fear and trepidation, especially since a suspect was identified this time, not a victim and not someone’s biological parents.

Some people don’t want their DNA utilized to identify a family member, no matter what that person has done. And yes, that’s very nearly an exact quote from an e-mail I received.

Others are simply uncomfortable with their DNA being used in any kind of a potential criminal setting – even to identify a victim like Buckskin Girl.

One person says that it just makes her feel “creepy.” Oddly enough, that’s how I feel about Facebook now.

If you think it’s fine for adoptees to identify parents using these techniques, but you don’t think it’s alright for victims or criminals to be identified, I’d like to ask you to consider the following scenario.

A underage female is raped and becomes pregnant. She reports the rape to police at the time. She opts to have the child instead of having an abortion, and the child is placed for adoption. The rapist is never caught, and the young woman goes on to establish a new life and marry, not telling her husband or children born to the marriage about the rape, or the child placed for adoption. The expectation of the mother at that time was certainly that “no one would ever know,” whether those words were ever in an adoption contract or not. The fact that adoptions were (and still remain in many places) closed speaks to the expectations set for the mother.

Years pass, and today the adopted child, now an adult, tests. Both of the adoptee’s biological parents are identified through matches to relatives of the adoptee’s parents who have tested, such as first cousins in our earlier example. The adoptees parents themselves did not test.

Results were:

  • The life of the mother, a victim who did nothing wrong or illegal, and who chose to give the child life, is upended through the process of being identified.
  • The father who is a rapist, a criminal, is also identified.
  • The adoptee is subsequently very unhappy with both results for different reasons, but cannot press “undo.”

I’m NOT inferring that these data bases shouldn’t be used for identifying parents. I AM saying that we need to consider that the techniques for identifying parents, victims and criminals are the same. The outcomes are not always positive in parent searches AND these areas are or can be incredibly intertwined. Unraveling or prohibiting one effectively prohibits others. How do we treat everyone fairly and how are those rules, whatever they might be, enforced, and by whom?

In other words, how do we “do no harm”? After all, this started out to be genealogy, a fun hobby, and has now progressed gradually through a slow crawl to something else. Here we sit today.

Consent

In the example rape case above, neither the biological mother nor the father had tested, but their family members had – just like in the Buckskin Girl and the Golden State Killer cases.

Today, relative to the Golden State Killer, people are upset because the database, GedMatch, into which they uploaded their DNA file for genealogy was used for other purposes – specifically to apprehend the Golden State Killer. They feel that isn’t the purpose for which they uploaded their DNA.

Any one of us could have been one of the matches to the Golden State Killer and some people obviously were. It bears repeating here that no one’s DNA or results were “handed over,” and the only people affected in any way was someone that matched DeAngelo, and probably then only the closest matches. Many time people’s trees are utilized and their cousins never contact them, so it’s certainly possible that people who match DeAngelo have no idea still to this day.

The usage evolution for GedMatch from genealogy to other functions has been a slippery slope, although clearly no one realized at the time, when several years ago uploads began with modified ancient sample kits. Later, people began to use the GedMatch database (among others) to identify biological parents, then victims and now criminals.

Other people feel that searching for parents is genealogy, but identifying criminals is not – even though the search techniques are exactly the same. In our rape example, the mother who was a victim was identified and the criminal rapist father was identified as well by the same DNA test. The tester’s intent was only to reveal their biological parents – hoping for a loving, tear-filled reunion. That’s not what happened. The process of finding their parents also revealed the associated circumstances.

You can’t separate these usages into separate “boxes” anymore, because they overlap in unexpected says. That rape case wasn’t hypothetical.

I have absolutely no sympathy for the rapist, in fact, quite the opposite – but I feel incredibly bad for the young mother who has now been twice victimized. First by the rapist and second by the process used to track her, through relatives who began asking lots of difficult questions.

Last fall, in a Facebook group I follow, I was utterly horrified to see someone post that in the adoption cases she works, she encourages the adoptee, when they feel they are “close” to identifying a parent, to send registered letters to all of the family members, asking them to test, hoping that those who aren’t the parent quickly test to absolve themselves and as a way to flush the parent out.

It’s Not Just Your DNA

In either case, the DNA of the RELATIVES of the person being sought, be it a parent, a victim or a criminal, is what is used to find or identify the desired person. People who have uploaded to GedMatch are now concerned that they might be that relative whose DNA is used in a way they did not originally anticipate. They are right, and not just about this particular criminal case – but about the many types of usages other than strictly genealogical that looks backwards in time.

Perhaps the people who uploaded never thought about the fact that their DNA is/was being used for adoption or missing parent searches – or perhaps they are supportive of that activity. Maybe they thought that identifying victims, such as Buckskin Girl was a great use of the data base by investigators. Maybe they never thought about the fact that searching for criminals who leave DNA specimens behind uses exactly the same research and matching techniques as adoptees’ parent searched.  Perhaps no one stopped to think  that the same search can identify both parents, a victim and a criminal at the same time.

Maybe they were naïve and never thought about it at all or didn’t read the GedMatch statement that said (and says):

In today’s world, there are real dangers of identity theft, credit fraud, etc. We try to strike a balance between these conflicting realities and the need to share information with other users. In the end, if you require absolute privacy and security, we must ask that you do not upload your data to GEDmatch. If you already have it here, please delete it.

I can’t tell you how many of the posts and e-mails I’ve seen about this topic include the word “assume,” and we all know about assume, right?

Maybe, like me, some people have thought about that potential situation and want criminals, regardless of whether they are relatives or not off the streets. If they are relatives, so much the better, keeping my own family safer.

Some people may have been uploading their relatives’ DNA samples to GedMatch or any other site other than where the relative originally tested without the relative’s permission. If that’s the case, the person either needs to obtain permission, pronto, or delete the person’s DNA they uploaded without permission.

GedMatch’s Statement

GedMatch has posted the following statement.

Testing in the Future

Another concern voiced this week is that people, especially relatives that we want to test, will be much more reticent to test in the future if they think the police can “take” or “access” their DNA. That’s probably true, so we need to be prepared to explain what actually happened, and how, to eliminate misconceptions

However, it is true that DNA in these databases has been and is being used for things other than genealogy. This is also the purpose of informed consent – with an emphasis on informed. Bottom line – the cat’s out of the bag now. Perhaps these incidents together, meaning parent searches, the identification of Buckskin Girl and the arrest of the Golden State Killer, will bring home the warning that was previously noted on GedMatch.

If you’re not comfortable – don’t upload. This also means that people MUST STOP simply telling other people to upload to GedMatch as a cure-all for everything that ails genealogists. If you are making the recommendation, you also bear the responsibility for full disclosure or at least a caveat statement.

“GedMatch is great for genealogy matching to each other across vendor platforms <or words of your choosing>. It’s also used for adoptees searching for their parents, was used to identify Buckskin Girl and played an important role in the apprehension of the Golden State Killer.”

As a result, GedMatch now provides a way to remove your entire account, if you so wish. GedMatch needed to do that for GDPR anyway. As long as we are on the topic, GDPR, which goes into effect on May 25th tightens privacy significantly for any vendor or company that includes records of any UK/EU resident. You can read about that in my articles here and here.

Every (major) testing company, along with GedMatch provides the option of removing your DNA results if you are so inclined.

As for people being hesitant to test, certainly some already were and some will be. But there will also be others that only first heard about genetic genealogy this past week and this notoriety won’t deter them one bit. Some people will actively choose to participate, knowing that they can later change their mind if they so choose. I notice the GedMatch site has been busier than ever.

In summary, the police did not “take” or even ask for anyone’s DNA. They simply uploaded the DNA results of a criminal, taken from the crime scene, and looked at the matches generated in order to make an ID, at which time they obtained the DNA of the suspect which matched the DNA from the crime scene.

Just like genetic genealogy, DNA without supporting evidence won’t be much good, but now they have someone identified to work with, collecting other evidence. Where was he? Does the DNA at multiple scenes match his? I would think in terms of a prosecution that these matches and arrest is only the beginning, not the end of the process.

Given that none of the major genealogy companies cooperate with law enforcement without a search warrant, it’s a WHOLE LOT easier to obtain your discarded DNA than to obtain a search warrant. Furthermore, there is no chain of custody with DNA from a genealogy data base, but there certainly is from a rape and from a discarded cup. If the DNA of the criminal from the scene, and the suspect’s DNA from a discarded item match as the same person, that’s pretty conclusive and damning evidence.

Of course, fear begets fear and the old questions of government access and other issues bubble up again.

Another question I’ve received is about whether the usage of GedMatch for the Golden State Killer case opens the door for DNA to be obtained by insurance companies. First, you’d have to test and upload something. There is nothing to “get” if you don’t – and the insurance company would need a search warrant (and probable cause of a crime) to retrieve your DNA from any testing company.

GINA legislation protects American’s today from discrimination when obtaining health insurance, but it doesn’t extend to life and other types of insurance. However, when I applied for life insurance some years ago, they took a blood sample and if I wanted life insurance, I had to authorize whatever it was they wanted to test in that sample. I’d wager that today, they would run a DNA test in addition to checking for other health indicators. No GedMatch or testing company is needed or desired – in fact – an insurance company requires chain of custody which is why they send someone to your house to draw your blood.

What To Do?

What you do with your DNA sample is entirely up to you. Everyone will make their own decision based on their own circumstances and preferences.

Some people have removed their DNA from the various databases and in essence, have stopped participating in genetic genealogy.

Some have made their kits at GedMatch either research or private. Research means that you can run the kit and see matches, but others can’t see you. That certainly defeats the spirit of collaborative genealogy.

Some people have evaluated the evidence at hand and have made the decision to continue as normal – just more aware of other uses that can, have and may occur.

This story and others similar will continue to arise and unravel, and many questions will likely be asked and hotly debated over the next many months and years, both within and outside of this community. I would not be surprised to see legislation of some type follow – which has been one of the biggest fears within the genetic genealogy community for years. Legislation by people unfamiliar with the topic at hand will likely be overreaching and extremely restrictive. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Like many others, I’m concerned that the genetic genealogy field will become a victim of its own success. I hope that doesn’t happen, but at this point, the cow has left the barn and that door really can’t be effectively shut. All we can do is to be transparent, make informed choices, assure that we have the consent of anyone whose kit we manage and to advocate for sanity.

My Decision

I’ve made my personal decision and my thought process worked like this:

  1. I haven’t done anything that I need to worry about.
  2. If a family member does something they need to be arrested for, I hope my DNA helps.
  3. If I were the family of the victims, I would want them identified AND their murderer/rapist put away forever. (Disclosure, I have had a family member raped and a different family member murdered.)
  4. As a citizen, I want criminals such as rapists and murderers identified and removed from society through any legal means possible.
  5. DNA testing also exonerates people who were wrongfully convicted through advocacy groups like the Innocence Project.
  6. DNA eliminates potential criminal candidates as well as pointing the finger directly at others.
  7. Using the techniques utilized for unknown parent searches, an identification is seldom made as a result of ONE match only, unless it’s immediate family. Therefore, if you remove your own DNA from the data base(s) for matching, your cousin and their cousins are still there – so your criminal family member’s goose is still cooked. It might just take a little longer in the stew pot.

My DNA stays online and I continue to support all of the major DNA testing companies that provide matching and accept transfers, including GedMatch.

DNAPainter – Mining Vendor Matches to Paint Your Chromosomes

This isn’t quite the same as when my mother used to talk about painting the town, but in genetic genealogy terms, it’s better.

This is the second of 4 articles that will describe how to use DNA Painter.

Today, I’d like to talk about how I utilize the various vendor testing tools combined with DNAPainter to “mine my DNA,” or better put, to mine my ancestor’s DNA which is now mine, pun intended.

To review instructions for how to set up and use the DNA Painter tool, please read DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts and then come back here to proceed.

I’m going to discuss each vendor’s tools and how I’ve used them, sometimes in combination.

57% Painted

Please note that you can click on any image to enlarge

Is this not a beautiful thing to behold? That’s my ancestors, in loving color, looking back at me, on MY chromosomes.

I’m completely thrilled that I have managed to paint 57% of my chromosomes. I’m a visual person, and while I’ve worked with spreadsheets now for years, I’ve officially abandoned them. Ok, mostly.

Yes, you heard me right – I’ve abandoned the spreadsheets in favor of DNA Painter, at least for segments where I can positively identify an ancestral couple. In other words, those segments that can be reliably mapped.

That 57% is made up of 445 segments in total, split between my maternal and paternal sides. That’s without counting my mother’s DNA. While I do utilize matching to my mother in order to be sure that a match is really a valid match, I didn’t paint her DNA. Obviously, I’m going to match her 100%, and DNA painter already breaks chromosomes into my pink maternal and blue paternal sides.

Key Elements

  1. The single best thing you can do in order to paint your chromosomes is to have known family members and cousins test. You can then paint their DNA that matches yours, attributing it to their identified family line.
  2. The second best thing you can do is to work with your matches using their trees to identify your common ancestor.

Now, you’re ready to begin painting.

I’m going to step through the process I used at each vendor to identify paintable segments.

I did not paint segments that I could not identify to an ancestral line, except for my endogamous Acadian line which I labeled simply as Acadian to mark those segments that I can identify as Acadian, but I can’t identify a specific ancestor, or ancestors. When I can identify the Acadian ancestor, I paint that segment using the ancestors’ names.

Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, I begin with my closest matches that are not immediate family – meaning not my parents, children or grandchildren. I’m looking for aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. I don’t paint siblings, but often half siblings are extremely useful because they can help you identify which paternal side other matches are related to.

In the first DNA Painter article, I explained how to utilize the Family Tree DNA chromosome browser to select an individual whose matching DNA can be displayed so that you can copy and paste that segment into the painting feature of DNA Painter.

On your results page, your “bucketed individuals” who have been assigned as maternal (pink icon above) or paternal (blue icon not shown) can be a huge clue when used in conjunction with the in-common-with (ICW) tool and the matrix.

You can also search by ancestral surname and then evaluate each match through common surnames, trees and other resources. If you’re not familiar with how to use the tools at Family Tree DNA, here’s a quick run-through.

Select the individual whose DNA you wish to paint, view in the chromosome browser, then copy and paste from the grid below to the DNAPainter tool.

I painted the matching DNA of all the people whose common ancestor with me I could positively identify before moving on to the next vendor.

Who Have I Painted?

As you begin to paint segments from multiple vendors, you may wonder if you’re finding duplicates. It’s easy to tell. At DNA Painter, click on “All segment data,” below the legend in the bottom right corner.

This displays the entire list of matches whose DNA you have painted, in spreadsheet format. You can sort by match name or simply do a browser search. (CTRL+F)

You can also download this data into a cvs (Excel compatible) file at the top left of this page.

Avoiding Duplicates

As you view and paint your matches at the various vendors, you may discover that you have already found a match with that person at another vendor, either because they tested there or uploaded their autosomal file. When possible, avoid duplicate painting. It won’t help anything and will just clutter your chromosomes. You may not always be able to identify a match as a duplicate, especially if the tester utilizes a pseudonym at various locations. Don’t’ worry though, because you can always easily delete it later and a duplicate person/segment certainly won’t hurt anything.

Ok, now to our next vendor! Let’s find more segments to paint.

MyHeritage

At MyHeritage, click on DNA matches.

At the right of the search box, fly over the little pink key (or funnel) looking thing and you’ll see the option for “Has Smart Matches.” That’s what you’re looking for.

Click on the key icon.

Smart Matches mean that your DNA matches and you have a common ancestor in your trees. Click on the purple button to review this DNA match.

For each match, scroll all the way down to the bottom where your matching chromosome segments will be colored.

At the right, above the chromosome browser, click on “advanced options” which will allow you to select “download shared DNA info.” You need to download to your system so that you can copy and paste the matching segment information to DNA Painter.

MyHeritage has a few more columns than necessary, and DNA Painter can’t utilize them. Delete the columns for Name, Match Name, RSID beginning and end, and also eliminate SNPs due to an overestimation issue. In many cases, the SNPs at MyHeritage are twice or more than the number of SNPs when comparing the same segment at other vendors.

Now that your segment is cleaned up, copy the entire group shown above, minus the yellow columns which you’ve deleted, and paste into the DNA Painter spreadsheet.

MyHeritage has recently added a triangulation feature, shown at the far right, below, indicating that these two people individually triangulate with me and Alberta. The icon at far right of “5th cousin” indicates triangulation.

By clicking on the triangulation icon, you then see how that person triangulates with both your match and you – in this case, me, Alberta, and Chandler.

You may choose to paint triangulated segments, BUT, the size of the triangulated segment is often going to be smaller than the amount of DNA than you match individually to either one or both people.

In the example above, you can see that you match the pink person on a significantly longer segment than you match the tan person. The amount of DNA where you match both the pink and tan person is smaller yet, because the area where you match the tan person extends beyond where you match the pink person and vice versa. If you were going to paint ONLY the triangulated segments, you would paint only the portion that is both pink and tan, “boxed” above.

I don’t recommend painting ONLY triangulated segments, because you’ll be depriving yourself of the ability for each person to match others on the portions of the segments on which they match you, but not the other person in question.

In this example, utilizing DNA Painter, you’ll see that people in fact match you AND the pink person on several segments. The segment shown in pink, at MyHeritage, above, is shown on chromosome 5 in DNA Painter as the long mustard colored segment. Look at how many people match you on that segment. This is why we don’t paint only the triangulated portions of the chromosome. That long mustard segment match will triangulate with many people on smaller portions of that mustard segment, as evidenced by the yellow, grey, blue, cinnamon, purple and red segment matches..

DNA Painter helps you triangulate, so there is no reason to restrict your painting to triangulated segments.

Triangulation is a great tool, but don’t mix triangulated segments with matching segments in the same profile, at least not until you get the hang of the tool and using the multiple vendor’s results.

23andMe

Unfortunately, 23andMe doesn’t have tools like tree matching (MyHeritage) or maternal/paternal phasing (Family Tree DNA,) but they do allow testers to enter common surnames.

Looking at closer matches, meaning first, second or third cousins, if they list even a few surnames, you may well be able to identify the common genealogical line, especially in conjunction with ancestral locations and the other people you match in common.

Sometimes you can glean enough information to identify your common ancestor. In this case, even if I didn’t know Cheryl, the surname would have identified the ancestor. If that didn’t do it, the “in common” list below would!

Once you’ve identified the common ancestor and decide you’re ready to paint, click on the Tools tab at the top of your page and select DNA Relatives.

On the DNA Relatives tab, click on the relative whose DNA you wish to paint. I’m selecting my cousin, Cheryl.

Click on the blue DNA Comparison, in the upper right hand corner.

On the comparison screen, you will select yourself as one person and Cheryl as the other.

At the top you’ll see the two individuals and their overlapping segments painted onto chromosomes. Scroll down and you’ll see the segment detail, below.

Highlight the rows (they’ll turn blue, like above) and right click to copy the segment information.

The next step is to drop the results into a spreadsheet, just long enough to delete the first and last columns, shown in red below, then copy the remaining rows and paste into the DNA Painter tool.

Mining Ancestry Data at GedMatch

GedMatch is somewhat of a special case, because GedMatch doesn’t do DNA testing, but provides an open sharing platform by facilitating uploads of raw autosomal files from multiple other vendors. Therefore, anyone with results at GedMatch tested elsewhere. If you tested at all of the other vendors, it’s probable that you find people at GedMatch as a match that match you at other vendors too.

Because 23andMe does not support the uploading of Gedcom files, if your match has uploaded a Gedcom file to GedMatch, or connected to Geni or WikiTree, then you may be able to identify your common ancestor at GedMatch that you were not able to identify at 23andMe.

Conversely, if you match at Ancestry, you won’t be able to paint from Ancestry, because Ancestry does not provide segment information. We will talk about Ancestry as a special case next, but for now, let’s focus on how to utilize GedMatch.

At GedMatch, you’ll work in steps after setting your account up and uploading your raw data file from either:

If you tested elsewhere, or after August of 2017 at 23andMe, you will have to upload to a special section called GedMatch Genesis. GedMatch Genesis provides a sandbox area for files other than the ones listed above that are generally incompatible with those files and with each other. Genesis files often have few SNP locations in common and not enough to match reliably.

I do not recommend DNA painting utilizing segments from GedMatch Genesis.

GedMatch is currently merging their regular GedMatch service with the Genesis service, so I’m not entirely clear how you will tell the difference between the kits known to match reliably, mentioned above, and others after the merge.

Currently, kits with T prefix (Family Tree DNA), A (Ancestry) and M (23andMe) show version levels in the type field when you match in regular GedMatch. MyHeritage kits are processed by the Family Tree DNA lab. G kits used a generic upload, so you can’t tell where they originated.

Kits uploaded in the Genesis sandbox seem to be assigned double alpha letter kit prefixes at random. Genesis includes a “Testing Company” field which does not include a version number. Today, just stay with the regular GedMatch one-to many and one-to-one matching for DNA Painter.

First, you’ll want to perform a one-to-many match.

This page shows your closest 2000 results. In my case, truncating my matches at 12.7cM. This means if I want to see my results below 12.7 cM, I must subscribe to the Tier 1 Utilities in order to be able to display over 2000 matches.

We’ll discuss how to utilize Tier 1 matching in the Ancestry portion, next, but for now, we’ll just be working with the regular one-to-many matches report.

Of course, trusty cousin Cheryl has results here as well.

In order to compare Cheryl’s results to my own, I need to do two separate things:

  • Click on the A link under the Autosomal Details column (above) and/or
  • Click on the X link under the X DNA column

These two results, both of which are paintable, do not display together so must be selected separately.

By clicking on the A or X, GedMatch will display a one-to-one comparison. I leave this page (below) at the default values and simply click submit.

Your next screen will be a match grid.

Once again, select and copy the results, then paste into DNA Painter. If you also have an X match with this individual, return to the one-to-many match page and then click on the X link to repeat the same process for the X chromosome.

Ancestry Through GedMatch

As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about Ancestry matches is DNA shared ancestor hints (SAH) – meaning those green leaves visible near the green “view match” button which indicate that you share both DNA and a common ancestor(s) in your trees.

Followed immediately by the worst thing which is that Ancestry provides no segment data. However, pairing Ancestry with GedMatch can provide you with some segment information, although you do have to dig. That digging was certainly worthwhile for me, as I found several readily identifiable matches.

When I find a green leaf shared ancestor hint at Ancestry, I record as much information about that match as I can in a spreadsheet. The reason is twofold.

  • Ancestry hints tend to come and go, rather inexplicable, and I want to have that information someplace besides at Ancestry
  • I want to be able to view how many matches I have through specific ancestors which I can do in a spreadsheet by sorting.
  • I want to be able to mine GedMatch for segment information for people at Ancestry who have uploaded to GedMatch.

Note the RJE V2 results, a 6th cousin who I match at 6.6 cM, as we’ll be using that at GedMatch.

I maintain several columns in my Ancestry Match spreadsheet, as shown above. I track people who might be good Y or mitochondrial DNA candidates, as well as GedMatch numbers or other useful information.

I don’t utilize segments smaller than 7 cM for DNA Painter, BUT, Ancestry almost always under-reports the matching segment size due to their internal process which removes some segments that do match. Therefore, I search for all Ancestry matches in GedMatch and paint them if they are 7cM or over at GedMatch. You will match at Ancestry down to 6 cM. Since 7cM is the default GedMatch threshold, that works out well. I don’t find them if they are under 7cM at GedMatch, and I don’t care.

In my case to obtain segments smaller than 12.7 cM, because that is the cutoff where the free one-to-many GedMatch tool reaches the 2000 match threshold (for me,) I need to utilize the Tier 1 subscription utilities which are well worth every dollar.

The one-to-many match looks quite different for the Tier 1 tool.

You’ll need to play with this a bit to determine how high you need to set the limit to see all of your 7cM matches. In my case, I had to set it to 20,000.

I utilize two monitors, so I display my Ancestry spreadsheet on the first monitor and the GedMatch one-to-many match table on the second monitor.

Then, utilizing the browser’s search function, I search for any identifiable portion of the information for the Ancestry match at GedMatch.

In the first example, the user’s name is RJE V2. I search at GedMatch for “RJE” using “ctrl+F” which is the browser’s find function.

You can see that the search found a total of 3 different “RJE” entries. Looking at the first 2, you can see that one is labeled V4 and one is labeled V2. Typically, I would look at this and decide that the RJE V2 is the right match based on the user name at Ancestry.

However, look closer.

The RJE V2 at GedMatch has a much higher amount of shared DNA at 3587.1 cM total than the RJE V2 at Ancestry with a total of 6.6 cM. Clearly, this is not the same person, even though the user name is the same.

For all we know, a different person may have used the same user name, which is clearly an alias, noted by the “*”. Or the same person may have multiple kits at GedMatch.

However, in this case, the RJE V2 is not the same match.

However, let’s say that it is the same person and we’ve been able to reasonably identify the match. In order to compare one-to-one, click on the highlighted blue “largest segment” in the autosomal category, shown below.

If you want to compare the X one-to-one, click on the blue largest segment in that column.

From this point, the matching will look the same as the one-to-one GedMatch matching shown in the previous section – so copy and paste as normal.

While this certainly isn’t the most effective way of working with Ancestry matches, it’s really the only hope we have, unless your match has also uploaded to either Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage.

However, in my experience, I generally stand a better chance of identifying Ancestry matches at GedMatch because their user name or the user name of the person managing their account can be found much more readily. People sometimes tend to utilize the same abbreviations, names or nicknames in multiple locations.

Summary

While each vendor has unique strengths and weaknesses today, and GedMatch provides a platform used by some but not all, the best way to effectively paint your chromosomes is to utilize all of the tools available, and sometimes together. I strongly suggest that you test at or upload to each vendor, because you will find matches at each vendor that aren’t elsewhere.

How many segments can you paint on your chromosomes, and what will those segments tell you?

In the next article, I’ll be walking through my chromosome painting gallery to take a look at the hidden messages there! I hope you’ll come along so you can find some hidden messages of your own.

Enjoy!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

DNA Painter – Chromosome Sudoku for Genetic Genealogy Addicts

Not long ago, Jonny Perl introduced the free online tool, DNA Painter, designed to paint your chromosomes. I didn’t get around to trying this right away, but had I realized just how much fun I would have, I would have started sooner.

Fittingly, Jonny, pictured above, won the RootsTech Innovation award this year for DNA Painter – and I must say, it’s quite well-deserved.

Congratulations Jonny!

  • This is the first of four articles about DNA Painter. In this article, we’ll talk about how to use the tool, and how to get started.
  • The second article talks about mining your matches at the various vendors for paintable segments with instructions for how to do that accurately with each vendor.
  • In the third article, we’ll walk through an analysis of my painted segments, so you can too – and know how to spot revelations.
  • The fourth article explains how I solved a long-standing mystery that was driving me crazy. If you have a relatively close mystery person in your DNA match list that you can’t figure out quite where they fit, this article is written just for you!

I’ll tell you right now, I haven’t had this much fun in a long time!

Want to hear the best part? You don’t have to triangulate. DNA painting is “self-triangulating.” Yes, really!

Let’s get started!

Introducing DNA Painter

To begin to use DNA Painter, you’ll need to set up a free account at www.dnapainter.com.

Read the instructions and create your profile.

Jonny provides an overview.  Don’t get so excited that you skip this, or you won’t know how to paint correctly. You don’t need to be Picasso, but taking a few minutes up front will save you mistakes and frustration later.

Blaine Bettinger recorded a YouTube video discussing how to use DNA Painter to paint your chromosomes to identify and attribute particular segments to specific ancestors. It includes a mini-lesson on chromosome matching.

I strongly suggest you take time to watch Blaine’s video from the beginning. For some reason, this link drops into the video near the end, but just slide the red bar back to the beginning.

Get Started

Here’s my blank, naked chromosomes. Notice for every chromosome, you see a blue paternal “half” and a pink maternal “half.” That’s because everyone gets half of their autosomal DNA from their father, and the other half from their mother.

Looking at my own chromosome painting today, below, it’s incredibly exciting for me to see 57% of my DNA painted, attributed to 77 couples and one endogamous group, Acadians. This took me a month or so working off and on.

At the end of the day, this is often how I rewarded myself! The only problem it that it has been difficult to go to bed.

Comparatively, I’ve been working on my DNA match spreadsheet, attributing segments to ancestors now for 5 or 6 years, and I’ve never been able to see this information visually like this before. This view of my ancestrally painted chromosomes is so rewarding!

Who To Map

DNA Painter is not the kind of tool where you upload your results, it’s a tool where you selectively paint specific segments of matches – meaning segments on which you match particular people with known common ancestors.

How do you know who is a good candidate to map?

I began with painting my closest matches with whom I could identify the common ancestor.

Not only will painting your largest matches be rewarding as you harvest low-hanging-fruit, it will help you determine if you actually have identified the correct DNA for later matches being attributed to a specific genealogical line. In other words, mapping these larger known segments will help you identify false positives when you have no other yardstick.

Your First Painting

I’m opening a new profile in DNA Painter to demonstrate the steps in painting along with hints that I’ve learned along the way.

I’m going to utilize my cousin, Cheryl, whom I match closely at Family Tree DNA. If you don’t know how to use the Family Tree DNA autosomal tools, click here.

Cheryl is my first cousin once removed, so we share a significant amount of DNA.

I’ve selected Cheryl on my match list, checked her match box, and then clicked on the Chromosome Browser in order to view our segment matching information.

You can see on the chromosome browser that I share quite a bit of DNA with Cheryl.

At the top of the chromosome browser, click on “View this data in a table.”

Highlight and copy all of the segments for Cheryl. I only use 7cM segments or higher at DNA Painter, so you don’t have to copy the data in the rows below your last match at that level. DNA Painter takes care of stripping out all the extraneous stuff.

Paint a New Match

At DNA Painter, after you have your profile set up, click on “Paint a New Match.”

Simply paste the segment data into the box in the window that pops up. DNA Painter takes care of removing the header information as well as segments that are too small.

You can click on “overlay these segments” to “test” a fit, but I haven’t really found a good use for that, because I’m only painting segments I’m confident about and I know which side, maternal or paternal, the match is on based on the known relative.

Click on “save match now” in the bottom right corner.

In the Save Match popup, shown above, I utilize the fields as follows.

I enter the name of my DNA match, followed by their relationship to me, followed by the source of the match. In this case, “Cheryl <lastname>, 1C1R, FTDNA”

In the “Segment/Match Notes” I list how the match descends from the common ancestral couple, a GedMatch ID if known, and anything else pertinent including other potential ancestral lines in common. This means that I list every generation beginning with the common ancestral couple and ending with the tester.

Hiram Ferverda and Eva Miller, Roscoe, Cheryl, GedMatch Txxxxxx

You’ll wind up eventually rethinking some of your segment assignments to particular ancestors and you’ll want as much information here about this match as possible.

Moving to the next field, in the “Ancestors Name,” I utilize the couples name, because at this point, you can’t tell which of the two people actually contributed the DNA segment, or if part is from one ancestor of the couple and part is from the other. If the male ancestor is a Sr. or Jr., or is otherwise difficult to tell apart from your other ancestors, I suggest entering a birth year by his name. This is your selection list for later painting segments from the same ancestor, so you want to be sure you can tell the generations apart.

Next, you’ll select the maternal or paternal side of your family. Change the color if you don’t like the one pre-selected to assign to segments descending from that couple. Originally, I was going to have pinks or light colors for maternal, and blues or darker for paternal, but I quickly discovered that scheme didn’t work well, and I had more ancestors than I could ever have imagined whose DNA I am be able to map and paint.

Therefore, pick contrasting colors. You can use each color on each half, meaning maternal and paternal, since the segments will be painted on different halves of the chromosome.

In the “Notes for This Group,” I add more information for the couple such as birth and death dates and location if I know or am likely to forget.

Click “save.”

Here you go!  Isn’t this fun!!!! Cheryl’s segments that match mine are painted onto my chromosomes!

At the right, your ancestor key appears with each ancestor to whom you’ve assigned a color key.

So far, I only have one!

Want to paint another group of segments?

Let’s paint Cheryl’s brother.

Following the same sequence, I paint Donald’s DNA, but this time, I select “Or link these segments to an ancestor I’ve added before.”

I select Hiram Ferverda, Eva Miller and save. The segments that I have in common with Cheryl and/or Don will now be displayed on each chromosome.

Looking at chromosome 1, you can see that I match Cheryl and Don on the same segment at the beginning of the chromosome, but received two different segments of DNA on a different portion of chromosome 1, further to the right.

As one last example, I added the DNA from two known cousins, Rex and Maxine, who descend a couple generations further back in time through more distant ancestors in the same line – one maternal and one paternal.

Click on the chromosome number to expand to see all of the painted segments

You can see, looking at chromosome 3 that Cheryl and Don match me on a significant amount of the same large pink segment plus a smaller pink segment at the end

Rex (yellow) and Maxine (blue) both match me on different parts of the chromosome. It looks like there is a small amount of overlap between Rex and Maxine which is certainly feasible, because Jacob Lentz, the ancestor that Maxine descends from is ancestral to the couple that Rex descends from.

By utilizing known matches, and mapping, we can see segments that move us back in time, telling us from which ancestor that portion of the segment descends.

For example, if the blue segment was directly aligned with one of the pink segments, then we would know that the blue portion of the pink segment descended from Jacob Lentz and Fredericka Reuhl.

This is the most awesome, extremely addictive game of ancestor Sukoku ever.

Wanna play???

Here’s how to prepare for my next article where we’ll utilize the various vendor matches to begin painting.

Download and Upload Your Autosomal Files

You’ll want to have your DNA at the most vendor locations possible so you can find all your matches that can be attributed to known relatives and ancestors. You never know who is going to test at which vendor, and the only way to find out is to have your DNA there too.

For each vendor, I’ve provided a mini-tutorial on how to maximize your testing and transfers both monetarily and for maximum matching effect, or you can read an article here that explains more.

There’s also a cheat sheet for transfer strategies at the end of this article.

A technique called imputation is mentioned below, so you may want to read about imputation here. MyHeritage’s initial offering utilizing imputation was problem plagued but has since improved significantly.

Ancestry

To Ancestry – There’s no way to transfer files TO Ancestry, so you’ll need to test there to be in their database. You will also need at least a minimum subscription ($49) to utilize all of the Ancestry DNA features. You can see a with and without subscription feature comparison chart here.

From Ancestry – There is also no chromosome browser at Ancestry. In order to use DNA Painter, chromosome segment information is required, so if you test at Ancestry and want to paint your segments, you’ll need to download your DNA file to either or all of:

  • Family Tree DNA – partially compatible with the current Ancestry test chip format – transfer will provide you with your closest matches, 20-25% of the matches you would have if you tested at Family Tree DNA
  • MyHeritage – partially compatible, but uses imputation to infer additional genetic regions
  • GedMatch

My preference is to test at Ancestry, and then test at Family Tree DNA and upload the test results to MyHeritage. The Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage testing platforms are the same, so there is no incompatibility between the two.

Family Tree DNA

To Family Tree DNA – You can upload the following vendor files TO Family Tree DNA.  Matching is free, but to use the advanced tools, including ethnicity and the chromosome browser, you’ll need to pay the $19 unlock fee. That’s still significantly less than retesting, especially for files that are 100% compatible.

  • Ancestry – V1 files generated from before May 2016 are entirely compatible, V2 files from after May 2016 are partially compatible, providing between 20-25% of your matches, meaning your closest matches
  • 23andMe – V3 file from Dec 2010-Nov 2013 and V4 file from November 2013-August 2017 are compatible, the V5 platform file beginning in August 2017 is not compatible
  • MyHeritage – fully compatible

From Family Tree DNA – You can upload your Family Finder results to:

MyHeritage

To MyHeritage – You can upload the following files to MyHeritage:

  • Family Tree DNA – fully compatible
  • Ancestry – partially compatible but uses imputation to infer additional genetic regions
  • 23andMe – partially compatible but uses imputation to infer additional genetic regions

From MyHeritage – If you test at MyHeritage, you can upload your files to:

23andMe

To 23andMe – You cannot transfer TO 23andMe, so you’ll need to test there if you want to be in their database.

From 23andMe – If you tested at 23andMe, you can upload your files to the following vendors:

  • Family Tree DNA – V3 file from Dec 2010-Nov 2013 and V4 file from November 2013-August 2017 are compatible, the V5 chip beginning in August 2017 is not compatible
  • MyHeritage – 23andMe – partially compatible but uses imputation to infer additional genetic regions
  • GedMatch – V3 file from Dec 2010-Nov 2013 and V4 file from November 2013-August 2017 are compatible, the V5 chip beginning in August 2017 is only compatible in the Genesis sandbox area. V5 matching is not reliable. Files from other vendors are recommended for GedMatch unless you are matching against another V5 result.

GedMatch

GedMatch is a third-party site that accepts all of these vendors’ autosomal files, with a caveat that the 23andMe V5 kit matches very poorly and requires special handling. I don’t recommend using that kit at GedMatch unless you are matching against other 23andMe V5 kits.

I upload multiple kits to GedMatch and mark all but one for research only. This allows me to use my Ancestry kit to match with other Ancestry users for more accurate matches, my Family Tree DNA kit to other Family Tree DNA kits, and so forth. Not marking multiple kits for research means that you’ll appear more than once on other people’s match lists, and only your first 2000 matches are free. Marking all kits except one as research is a courtesy to others.

Recommended Testing Strategy for New Testers

  1. Test at Ancestry and download to GedMatch.
  2. Test at Family Tree DNA and upload to MyHeritage and GedMatch.
  3. Test at 23andMe and upload to GedMatch Genesis.
  4. At GedMatch, mark all except one kit as “research,” then utilize your kits from the same vendor for one-to-one comparisons.

Recommended Transfer Strategy

Of course, where you have, and haven’t already tested will impact your transfer strategy decision. I’ve prepared the following cheat sheet to be used in combination with the information discussed above.

*Unless you can transfer a 23andMe V3/V4 or an Ancestry V1 kit to Family Tree DNA, it’s better to test at Family Tree DNA. Ancestry V2 tests are only 20-25% compatible.

A transfer from Family Tree DNA to MyHeritage is best because those vendors are on the same platform and the tools at MyHeritage are free.

In my next article, we’ll discuss how to mine your matches at the various vendors to obtain accurate segments for chromosome painting – including a strategy for how to utilize Ancestry and Gedmatch together to identify at least some Ancestry segment matches.

So, for now, get ready by transferring your matches into whichever data bases they aren’t already in. The only data base where I couldn’t identify matches that I didn’t have elsewhere was at 23andMe. The rest were all there just waiting to be harvested!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Who Tests the X Chromosome?

Recently, someone asked which of the major DNA testing companies test the X chromosome and which ones use the X in matching. How does this difference influence the quality of our matches?

Vendor X in Download File Uses X in Matching X Included in Total cM Count
23andMe Yes Yes Yes
Family Tree DNA Yes Yes (if have a match on another chromosome) No
Ancestry Yes *No No
MyHeritage Yes No No
GedMatch N/A Separately No

*If Ancestry did utilize the X in matching, it wouldn’t benefit customers because Ancestry does not show segment information by chromosome.  In other words, no chromosome browser.

Family Tree DNA includes any size X match IF and only if the two people already match on a different chromosome.

GedMatch, of course, isn’t a vendor who does DNA testing, so they don’t provide download files.  They are solely on the receiving end.

X CentiMorgan Counts

Due to variations in the way vendors calculate matches and total cM counts, your mileage may vary a bit.

In other words, the 23andMe cM total, if an X match is involved, may be slightly more than a match between the same two people at Family Tree DNA, where the X match cM is not included in the cM total.

Conversely, you won’t show an X match with someone at Family Tree DNA if there isn’t also another segment on a different chromosome that matches.

In general, due to the thin spread of SNPs on the X chromosome, you will need, on average, a cM match that is twice as large as on other chromosomes to be considered of equal weight.

In other words, a 10 cM match on the X chromosome would only be genealogically equivalent to approximately a 5 cM match on any other chromosome.

X matches really can’t be evaluated by the same rules as other chromosomes due both to their SNP paucity and their inheritance path, which is why most vendors don’t include those segments in the total cM count.

X Matches

While including the X chromosome cM count is problematic, X matching can be a huge benefit because of the unique inheritance path of the X chromosome.

In the article, X Marks the Spot, we discussed the inheritance path of the X chromosome for both males and females. Females inherit an X chromosome from both father and mother, which recombines just like chromosomes 1-22.  However, men only inherit an X from their mother, because they inherit a Y from their father instead of the X.  Therefore, males will only inherit an X from their mother, and females will only inherit their father’s mother’s X chromosome.

Charting Companion software works with your genealogy software of choice to produce a lovely fan chart where the contributors of my X chromosome are charted in color, above. You can read more about Charting Companion here.

The great news is that if you and a match share a significant portion of the X chromosome, meaning more than 15 cM which reduces the likelihood of an identical by chance match, the common ancestor (on that segment) has to come from an ancestor in your direct X path.

I’m always excited to see with whom I share an X.  That piece of information alone helps me focus my ancestor detective efforts on a specific portion of my tree.

Some X segments can remain intact for generations and may be very old.  So don’t be surprised if the common ancestor of the X segment and another matching segment may not be the same ancestor.

Sorting by X

I wasn’t able to find a way to sort by X chromosome matches at 23andMe, but you can sort by the X at both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch.

At GedMatch, X matching shows on the one-to-many match page.  You can sort by either Total X cM or Largest X cM by using the up and down arrows, at right, below, in the X DNA columns.

After you identify an X match, be sure to run the X one-to-one match option to verify.

My GedMatch matches cause me to wonder if 23andMe is using a different reporting threshold for the X chromosome, because one of my matches at GedMatch is a close family member with no X match at 23andMe, but a total of 32 X cM and with a longest segment of 14 X cM at GedMatch.

That same individual matches me with the largest X segment of 14 cM at Family Tree DNA as well.

Family Tree DNA X Match Phasing

At Family Tree DNA, on your Family Finder matches page, just click on the X-Match header (at right, below) to bring all of your X matches to the top of your list.

If you have linked any kits of relatives to your tree, you will see numbers of phased kits on the maternal and paternal tabs with the red and blue male and female icons. In the example above, I have 3313 matches total, with 744 being paternal, 586 being maternal.

Next, click on the maternal or paternal tab to see only the people with X matches who match you on the  your maternal and paternal lines. Matches are automatically sorted into maternal and paternal “buckets” for you. Remember to check the size of the X match before deciding about relevance.

Who is your largest X match that you don’t already know?  Maybe you can find your common ancestor today.

Have fun!!!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to: